Sunday, January 31, 2010

Speaking of Starry Night . . .

Mari sent me this excellent clip.  According to the YouTube post: It's "A slideshow of Vincent Van Gogh's work set to the song "Vincent" by Don McLean. It's part of an art and creative writing lesson plan for the patients at Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield."

Snow in Sula

It was snowing when I got up this morning, so I left the house at the crack of dawn (8:00 this time of year) to soak it in.

January Full Moon

Per Mari's comment, Van Gogh's Starry Night.

Friday, January 29, 2010

River Ice

The holes in the river ice are getting larger.  After a month of frozen silence, the sound of the flowing water seems loud.

January 13, 2010

January 28, 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Snowshoeing Up the Ridge

With all the new snowfall, I was anxious to take the snowshoes up the ridge behind my cabin.  There are no trails up there other than game trails.  The best way up is to go about a half-mile to the east (left in the pic), and walk up the spine of the ridge to the west.

The snowshoes sink pretty deep in the new, soft powder.  Breaking trail is quite a workout, even on level ground.

I can affirmatively say that snowshoeing up a steep incline in deep powder is a serious workout.  I walked (more like trudged, or maybe even slogged) up the spine of the ridge to this decommissioned Forest Service Road several hundred feet up the ridge (apologies for the wet camera lens).

By popular demand.

Going back is much easier because now there's a trail of packed snow to follow.

It doesn't look like it, but this is looking down the steep hillside on the descent.  You can see the trail I made on the way up.

A glimpse of my cabin through the trees about halfway down the ridge (at 12x zoom).


Imprint of a Steller's Jay in the Snow

Black-billed Magpie

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Winter Returns

It has been snowing off and on, mostly on, for the last four days.  We've had a total of about five inches of new accumulation.  The nighttime temperatures are in the teens, but the afternoon temps still climb a degree or two above freezing.

Monday, January 25, 2010


When I got my Montana license plates, I had a moment of sticker shock.  It cost me $490 to register my vehicle, including a $217 registration fee, $231 in county property taxes and a few other miscellaneous fees.  I figured, since they were charging me an arm and a leg, they'd give me handicapped tags, but they didn't.  My registration renewal in Texas would've cost me $64.  

Montana requires both front and back license plates, unlike Texas, which only requires the rear plate.  My vehicle didn't have a holder for a front plate, so I had to go to O'Reilly and get a mount I could attach under the front bumper.  Maybe that's how I'll rationalize it—since I got two plates, it was really only $245 per plate (plus about five bucks for the mount). 

As a small bright side, there's no state vehicle inspection in Montana, so I saved $50 there.  Now I have neither an inspection sticker nor a registration sticker on my windshield.  For proof of registration, Montana only requires an annual sticker you put on your back license plate.  I feel naked without any stickers plastered on the inside of my windshield.  But I like it.

I got one of the brand new, retro-style license plates, like the top one shown here:

The first number represents the county you live in, with the counties ranked by population.  Ravalli County is the 13th largest county in the state (or at least it was as of some arbitrary date), so my plates start with the lucky 13.

I'm glad I got the new plates—they look way better than the old ones:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Guest Blogger: Penni!

Penni says: Ok - Cliff made me do it! He blogged about making homemade rolls and I couldn't stand it. They looked and sounded SO good. I like to cook - mostly because I like to eat.  A recipe is a necessity for me, and when he said "I keep adding pinches of flour, while stirring it in.  It's more art than science" - that scared the bejezus out of me!

So, with much trepidation, I decided to make Cliff's Rolls!

Yeast scares me, because you have to be exact. When I cook, it's a GIANT mess, I often skip parts in recipes and I tend to dirty every pot and pan in my house.  But, I managed to read his recipe correctly, add pinches of flour and I passed the "hesive" test. Then, it was time for them to rise.

For those of you who know me, you know my patience level - it's below zero.  So the 2 hour wait was torture!  I bet I made 10 trips to the refrigerator outside to peek under the cloth!  Finally, it was time to punch down the dough.  I gave Jackson that honor.  He also helped me roll and put them in the muffin tin. Then, we had to wait AGAIN!  They were finally done around 8:00 pm - so we had rolls and butter for dessert.  But, they were SO worth waiting for! They were delicious!!!

Today, my mom e-mailed me that she is going to try them today. She said if I had the patience to make them, she could too!  I can't wait to see how hers turn out!

Penni's esteemed panel of food critics.

Cliff says: When Penni told me she had the dough for the rolls rising in the beergerator in their garage, I said "You gotta send me pictures. And a beer."  Nothing gets past Penni:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Three-toed Woodpecker

Most woodpeckers have four toes on each foot, but the Three-toed Woodpecker and the similar Black-backed woodpecker each have three.  The two species are distinguished by the black and white barring on the back of the Three-toed Woodpecker.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Sun Sets on Another Week

Clark's Nutcracker

I took this picture through a window and looking through another tree, at max zoom, so it's not bad, all things considered.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Mild Winter, So Far

It has been a mild winter so far, after a brutal and early start that ruined the fall colors and froze my septic tank. January has been much milder than December was. We are in the second week of a warm spell with lows in the mid 20s and highs in the mid 30s. And that's in Sula, which the locals talk about as if it was the Siberia of the Bitterroot Valley.

The river froze solid for a few weeks. I gave it a significant stress test by walking on and across it several times. I had planned to walk down it for a mile or so, like on a wide, frozen pathway, but it appears I have missed my chance. The warmer temps have caused the ice to crack in places and completely cave in in others.

 Looking upstream.

Looking downstream.

Cold is Relative

65 above zero:
Floridians turn on the heat.
Montanans plant gardens.

60 above zero:
Californians shiver uncontrollably.
Montanans sunbathe.

50 above zero:
Italian & English cars won't start.
Montanans drive with the windows down.

40 above zero:
Texans don coats, thermal underwear, gloves, wool hats.
Montanans throw on a flannel shirt.

35 above zero:
New York landlords finally turn up the heat.
Montanans have the last cookout before it gets cold.

32 above zero:
Distilled water freezes.
Montana water gets thicker.

20 above Zero:
People in Miami all die.
Montanans close the windows.

Californians fly away to Mexico.
Montanans get out their winter coats.

20 below zero:
Hollywood disintegrates.
Montanans let the dogs sleep indoors.

40 below zero:
Washington DC runs out of hot air.
Montana Girl Scouts sell cookies door to door.

80 below zero:
Polar bears begin to evacuate the Arctic. Penguins leave Antarctica.
Montana Boy Scots postpone Winter Survival classes until it gets cold enough.

100 below zero:
Santa Claus abandons the North Pole.
Montanans rent DVDs.

460 below zero:
All atomic motion stops.
Montanans start saying "Cold enough for ya?"

500 below zero:
Hell freezes over.
Montana public schools open 2 hours late.

Thanks D-Liz!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Roll On

Y'all should check out Montana Mary's take on the yeast rolls on her blog, Yummy Montana.  She's hilarious, especially the part where she says "But Cliff is all fancy in his little cabin in the wilderness," because I rubbed butter on the top of my rolls when they came out of the oven.  I can't help myself--if it's bread and it's hot, I'm fixing to put some butter on it (Note: in southeast Texas, "fixing to" is pronounced "fidna.")

Rural News

All of these headlines appeared in The Missoulian in the past week:

  • Montana State Prison doing away with single-wide execution trailer;
  • Missoula woman allegedly attacks boyfriend's house with hatchet, pistol;
  • Butte man sentenced for fifth, sixth DUIs (they were 15 days apart);
  • Montana livestock, wildlife leaders to meet about wolf attacks;
  • Missoula medical marijuana caregiver faces felony drug charges;
  • Rodeo committee resigns after dispute with Western Montana Fair manager;
  • Breast cancer fundraiser leaves Western Montana Fair over alleged drunken groping, county response.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Natural Snowballs

The warm temps and the sun have partially melted the snowcaps on the fenceposts, making natural snowballs.

Either that, or a bunch of snow elves have visited during the night.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Like a Box of Chocolates

I figure I can get away with a gratuitous opera clip on the weekend.  Most people only check the blog during the week from work.

This is a great, fun duet from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers).  In this duet, Mustafa', the Algerian chieftan (the guy in the big hat), is trying to foist his wife off on his Italian slave, Lindoro.  Lindoro has his own love interest, so he resists.  This duet is their back and forth over the qualities of the perfect woman.  It's in Italian, though.  I couldn't find a clip with English subtitles, like you'd get at a performance in the States.  This is my take:

Lindoro:  I don't know, the woman for me must be perfect (loosely translated).
Mustafa':  This one has everything: beauty, wealth, grace.  She's one in a million.
Lindoro:  Yeah, but she has to be sweet, too, and make good biscuits (very loosely translated).
Mustafa':  I got you covered, Bro. She's all that and a bag of Bugles. . . .

Mari and I saw this opera in Dallas last spring.  There was some other big event going on at the fairgrounds that weekend, so the Dallas Opera e-mailed ticketholders warnings about snarled traffic and advisories to leave two hours early.  I'm not a big fan of gridlocked traffic, so we decided to go extra early, and we tailgated in the opera hall parking lot like people do at the Santa Fe Opera.  I'm pretty sure we're the only people to ever tailgate before a Dallas opera.  We skipped the fancy tablecloth and crystal that the uppity people use and had peanut butter and raspberry preserves sandwiches with Fritos in them, and whole milk in glass glasses, sitting in the back of my SUV with our legs dangling out the back, me in a suit (no tie) and Mari in a gorgeous dress.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Roll Me Away

My friends think I'm crazy, especially the guys, because sometimes I make my own bread.  I like fresh bread, and the nearest grocery store is over thirty miles from my cabin.  If I get any bread there, it's almost stale by the time I get it home.

I don't mean to get all Cooking Photographer on you (as if, right?), but you should try these yeast rolls.  They're straight out of Joy of Cooking, and they're the easiest bread recipe I've ever made.  The best part is you don't have to do any kneading.

Combine in a small bowl: 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) of active dry yeast and 1/4 cup warm water (105°-115°  The temperature range is important. If the water is too cool, the yeast won't do its thing.  If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast.  I use a candy thermometer to be sure).  Let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 min.

Combine in a large bowl:
  • 1/2 stick of butter (1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Pour one cup of hot water over these ingredients and stir until melted/dissolved.  Stir in the yeast.  Beat in 1 large egg.

Here's the only tricky part, which isn't that bad: Stir in and beat until a soft dough forms "about 2 3/4 cups" all purpose flour.  (I never follow recipes exactly, but I like to see exact measurements so I know what I'm not following. The "about 2 3/4 cups" throws me off a little bit).  I've found that 2 3/4 cups is the starting point.  The dough is still too sticky to handle, so I keep adding pinches of flour, while stirring it in.  It's more art than science, but I go by what I call the "hesive" test.  The dough should be more cohesive (sticks together) than adhesive (sticks to everything else, mainly the bowl and your hands).

Put the dough in a large greased bowl and turn it to coat it.  Cover with a clean cloth and put in the refrigerator at least 2 hours, but up to 12.

Here's my favorite part: Punch down the dough.

Divide the dough into pieces and shape into round rolls. Joy says 15, but I use a muffin tin that holds 12.  Either I have twelve large rolls, or I put the extra ones on a cookie sheet.  Let rise until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.  Bake at 425° until golden, 15 to 18 minutes.

As soon as they come out of the oven, I rub the end of a stick of butter across all the tops.

I told you I wasn't the Cooking Photographer--hers would've been perfectly round and all the same size, and her picture would've looked much more attractive.  But these rolls are really tasty, light and buttery.  They're so good, they'll make you want to slap your mother, which is easier in some families than others. 

Mari really loves when I make these (she cooks everything except bread).  So don't anybody tell her I made them while she was out of town, or she may hit me with a cast iron skillet when she gets back.  You know those fiery redheads.  Enjoy.